DURING last Thursday’s Senate hearing on the P6.4 billion smuggled shipment of drugs from China, Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th made two extremely dangerous allegations which may very well cost him his career, if not his life.
First, Trillanes attempted to link President Duterte’s son Paolo to an Asian drug smuggling syndicate known as the “Triad”. Citing undisclosed foreign intelligence reports, Trillanes said that Paolo had a tattoo on his back which marked him out as a Triad member. “I imagine it is dragon-like with coded numbers.” However, despite repeated requests to reveal the tattoo, Duterte refused. “No way,” said the President’s son.
Second, Trillanes alleged that both Paolo and lawyer Mans Carpio had enriched themselves from drug smuggling. Carpio is the husband of Sarah “Inday” Duterte who is the Mayor of Davao City and the daughter of the President. Trillanes revealed Davao bank accounts that he claimed belonged to Carpio and Duterte, and which allegedly contained hundreds of millions of pesos. He requested they each sign a bank waiver. Both denied knowledge of the accounts and refused to sign.
Throughout the hearing, Carpio and Duterte behaved with incredible smugness. Their undisguised sneering was matched only by the pandering of some members of the Senate. But nothing can be concluded and the nation is left guessing. Carpio and Duterte walked out of the Senate on a wave of senatorial appreciation and gratitude for even deigning to appear.
So, what did Thursday’s session achieve?
It is clear that drugs by the ton are entering the country’s ports virtually unimpeded. The Bureau of Customs (BoC) is plainly and massively corrupt. Following on from his privilege speech in which he described and named the “tara” system, an entrenched mode of operation involving bribery or “lagay”, pay-offs, and players, Sen. Panfilo Lacson reinforced his assertion that tara enables the smuggling of drugs into the country. Customs officials and their lawyers did not dispute this.
They know of it, they admit it occurs, and they add extortion and harassment to the system. BoC intelligence officer Joel Pinawin said: “That’s how 605 kilos of shabu went through the green lane.” How tara circulates has yet to be firmly determined. But it may be that tara touches everyone. Although Pinawin denied receiving tara himself, he is named as being a recipient.
It is clear that agencies responsible for investigating corruption, and ensuring the custody and destruction of seized drugs, are amazingly inept. Sen. Franklin Drilon showed that the “chain of custody” procedure was a shambles. Seized drugs were not properly inventorized in a timely manner and were not destroyed within 24 hours, as the law dictated. Seized drugs were not inventoried in a timely manner and were not destroyed within 24 hours, as the law dictated. A proportion of the impounded drugs simply went missing. “Eaten by rats of the two-legged variety,” so the joke ran. Drilon was not laughing. He admonished the performances of the BoC, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), as being utterly lamentable and nothing less than a disgrace.
It is clear that there are key people involved in large-scale drug smuggling and that those people operate from Davao or are affiliated with people from Davao. This group is known collectively as the “Davao group”. A number of names crop up repeatedly in the testimonies of various people. Customs fixer Mark Taguba, the man in the eye of the storm, has named among others, Davao City councilor Nilo “Small” Abellera and Kenneth Dong, middlemen, ‘handlers’ and friends of Paolo Duterte. Lacson named Charlie Tan, a Davao-based businessman. Retired policeman and confessed Davao Death Squad assassin Arturo Lascañas, in his sworn testimony before the Senate last March, also referred to Tan, alleging that Tan was a drug lord protected by Paolo. Trillanes showed group photographs of Abellera, Tan, Paolo Duterte, Dong, and lawyer Mans Carpio. Citing several drug smuggling cases over the last decade, Trillanes concluded that Davao functioned as a “transshipment point” for drugs.
It is clear that drug smugglers and drug lords make extraordinary fortunes with every shipment. Lacson noted that Customs handled between 80 to 100 containers per week. Taguba, at the very tip of the iceberg, admitted that he paid P1 million in tara per week to facilitate the smuggling through Customs.
Surely, then, it must now be patently obvious to even the most dedicated supporter of President Duterte’s so-called drug war, that killing the poor and their children will not end drugs and criminality. It must be obvious that killing children, like 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman, whose body was found in a creek last week, stabbed 30 times, with his head bound in packing tape, will not stop drug lords. That much should be clear.